What to do when you only have 20 minutes to work out

We’re all busy, juggling multiple tasks and responsibilities, and it can be easy to pass up a workout when we feel we don’t have enough time for a decent one. Lucky for us on those crazy days, it IS possible to get an effective workout in in a short amount of time. The Pilot and I are still in the fog of the early weeks with a baby, and fitting in a workout can be a liiiiittle tricky. Below I’ve planned out some 20-minute workouts, so there’s no excuse the next time we’re pressed for time!

Side note: It was such a blast having the fam here this weekend and they’re headed back to Arkansas today. We got to take them to some of our favorite San Diego spots, enjoy the lovely weather, and watch the cousins play. So much fun. I’ll have some more weekend pics up soon.

Cousins in the shark's mouth

Finding Time to Work Out

For me, I’m fortunate that I teach some active classes which are built-in time to sweat, and I’ve been testing the strength components in the PBB plan (which are perfect because they’re short and I can do them at home!). For the Pilot, it’s been a little more challenging to fit in gym time. Many nights, he won’t head to the gym until both kiddos are asleep. He’s dedicated and makes it happen, even though it’s at the tail end of a very long day with work and everything else he has going on.

A lack of time was something that used to hinder me from working out. I figured if I only had 20 minutes or so, it wasn’t enough to get in a “full workout,” so I would skip it. This was also during the days when I would waste a lot of time at the gym (and had time to waste, haha). I’ve learned that every little bit counts, and you really can get in an awesome workout in a short amount of time.

20-Minute Workouts for When You’re Short On Time

If you only have 20 minutes to spare, you can still get in a great workout! I’ve put together some options for you for when you run into one of these hard-to-find-the-time days.

For these workouts, I included warmups and cool downs during the 20 minutes. Ideally, you’ll be able to spend 5 minutes warming up and 5 minutes to get the heart rate back down after your workout. I’ve found that I can warm up for my strength workouts during the strength portion (with slow, controlled, functional movements) and cool down by walking briskly out of the gym, and slowly to the car. If you’re going to do a 20-minute cardio workout, I’ve added some moderate cardio into the 20-minute block to warm up your body and safely elevate the heart rate before busting into intense interval training.

(As always, check with a doc before making any fitness or nutrition changes. Honor your body and modify as needed.)

What to do with only 20 minutes to work out -- It IS possible to get in a good workout in short amount of time. Get 20-minute workouts at Fitnessista.com

Pick Your Workout

20-Minute Cardio Workouts:

HIIT: warm up for 5 minutes at a moderate pace and incline. Alternate between 1 minute easy, and one minute hard for 10 minutes. Alternate between 30 seconds easy and 30 seconds hard for 5 minutes. Cool down and stretch.

Steady: warm up for 5 minutes at a moderate pace. Since you only have 15 minutes for the “meat” of your workout, bring your pace up to slightly faster than your normal steady “base” pace. Hold here for 15 minutes before cooling down and stretching.

HIIT & Steady: warm up for 5 minutes at a moderate pace and incline. Next, do 30 seconds HARD, and 30 seconds easy for 7 minutes. Next, complete 8 minutes of EASY steady state cardio. Cool down and stretch.

20-Minute Strength Workouts:

Strength Workout 1: 5 minute warmup (Slow and controlled: 10 bodyweight squats, 10 lunges each side, 10 weighted rows, 10 pushups, 1 minute plank.), 15 minutes of supersets. Superset 1: alternate between 10 biceps curls and 10 triceps dips for 3 rounds. Superset 2: alternate between 10 bent-over row and 10 pushups for 3 rounds. Superset 3: alternate between lunges (10 each side) and 10 hamstring curls (machine or stability ball) for 3 rounds. If you have time after your supersets, add in some core work with planks (I like 30 seconds regular plank, 30 seconds side plank, 30 seconds regular plank, 30 seconds on the other side). Stretch.

Strength Workout 2: 5 minute warmup (Slow and controlled: 10 bodyweight squats, 10 lunges each side, 10 weighted rows, 10 pushups, 1 minute plank.), 15 minutes of circuit training. Complete the following moves in a circuit, moving quickly from one exercise to the next: 15 squats to biceps curls, 15 pushups, pull-ups (or assisted pull-ups. If you’re not at the gym, try dumbbell rows instead), 10 walking lungs. Cool down and stretch.

20-Minute Strength and Cardio Workouts:

Strength & Cardio 1: 10 minutes of strength, 10 minutes HIIT intervals. (Need extra 5 minutes for warm up and cool down.) Warm up with 5 minutes of moderate cardio with moderate incline. Complete a 10-minute circuit. For 10 minutes, try the following exercises: sprint .25 miles, 15 push-ups, 15 squats, 10 biceps curls, 10 triceps dips. Complete as many rounds as you can in the 10-minute block. Next, try 10 minutes of HIIT: alternate 1 minute fast and 1 minute slow for 10 minutes total. Cool down and stretch.

Strength with Cardio Blasts: add in some of you favorite cardio moves during your workout! Try 10 squats, 10 lunges with biceps curls, 10 lunges (the opposite side) with shoulder raises, 10 triceps dips, and 10 push-ups. After each round, do 45 seconds of your favorite heart-pumping cardio moves or plyo, like jump squats, mountain climbers, lateral jumps, jumping jacks, box jumps, etc. 

20-Minute Core and Flexibility Workout:

This is one of my favorite hotel room combos:

10 minutes sun salutations

5 minutes core burner (some of my favorites here, here, here and here).

5 minutes stretching/foam rolling. For tips on foam rolling, check out this post.

How do you gauge a “successful workout?” If I have sweat around my eyeballs, I’ll call it a win. 😉

See ya later today on the Family page!



Don’t forget to check in with today’s winter shape up workout (steady state)!

Congratulations to the winners of the Kit’s Organic giveaway:

Kate, who said “Dark Chocolate and Peanut butter is always a great combo!”

Kristin, who said “Dark chocolate peanut sounds delish! I can’t wait to try these!”

Sarah, who said, “anything with dark chocolate and the lemon vanilla chia sounds interesting too!”

(Send me an email, lucky winners! Fitnessista at gmail dot com and we’ll get your prize on the way to you)

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  1. Megan @ Skinny Fitalicious on January 26, 2016 at 6:58 am

    I usually know it’s been a good workout when I’m dripping in sweat and everyone is looking at me like I’m crazy. Haha!

  2. Erin @ Erin's Inside Job on January 26, 2016 at 7:31 am

    I love high intensity workouts, so you can definitely get in some good movements and reps in 20 minutes if you do it right!

  3. Katie @ Peace Love & Oats on January 26, 2016 at 7:31 am

    I love getting in a HIIT workout when I don’t have much time. SO much better than doing nothing- that can be a full, tough workout!

  4. Felicia on January 26, 2016 at 7:59 am

    I LOVE this! I’m in grad school and often struggle with trying to figure out what I could do that would be effective in only 20 minutes for a workout. I’ll definitely be using these this week. 🙂 thanks!

  5. Sara on January 26, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Thank you for posting! Love HIIT workouts because I’m done faster! 🙂

    Sara | Lipstick, Lattes & Lunges

  6. Carrie on January 26, 2016 at 9:17 am

    I generally love to do a tabata workout or body weight circuit workout if I am short on time. Some favorite quick workouts of the moment are alternating jump ropes with body weight exercises (pushups, burpees, plank jacks, etc.) or a quick pyramid of kettlebell swings and super burpees (do 1 KB swing and 1 super burpee, then 2 and 2, and so on up to 15/15 and back down again).

    Also, my gym started offering Meta Fit classes instead of bootcamp, and those have quickly become favorites – they are normally between 20 and 25 mins (plus warm-up and cool down) instead of the hour-long bootcamp class. Super effective and efficient.

    • Carrie on January 26, 2016 at 9:28 am

      Also, just read the news, I’m praying for safety for all in the SD area.

  7. Erica on January 26, 2016 at 9:55 am

    I’ve definitely had to readjust how I approach working out now that little man is here! I used to workout for an hour a day, and now it’s more like 20-30 minutes! It’s amazing how much you can get done in that amount of time though!

  8. Erin @ Her Heartland Soul on January 26, 2016 at 10:56 am

    I love that picture of your girls! They’re brave. I think I would have been scared to go into a sharks mouth (even a fake one) at Liv’s age. I was a chicken.

  9. Cassie on January 26, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Wobbly legs and short of breath are a good sign for me!

  10. Amanda @ Exploring Life & Things on January 26, 2016 at 11:22 am

    These are such good workout ideas. I used to be the same way and think that every workout had to be 45-60 minutes. Silly me! Haha I like doing HIIT workouts that are quick and effective.

  11. Amanda on January 26, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    My go-to lately is to sprint a mile, spend 10 minutes on upper or lower body, and then do a quick 5 minute yoga flow. Or just piyo upper 😀

  12. Julia on January 26, 2016 at 3:17 pm

    What a great post! I was scrambling with a max of twenty minutes at the gym this morning and did a nice bit of sprint intervals. This post was exactly what I needed to see today. Thanks, Gina. 🙂

  13. Jeffrey on January 26, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    I thought there was supposed to be 3 winners for the Clif Bars!

    • Fitnessista on January 26, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      There are! I need to pick 2 more- will edit the post when I do!

      • Jeffrey on January 26, 2016 at 4:40 pm

        Well, I have my fingers crossed! Thanks for such a quick reply.

  14. Diane on January 26, 2016 at 8:09 pm

    This is awesome! I work very early morning shifts and even though I normally just workout out after work, I need a quick little workout that I can do to wake me up at 4 a.m.

    Thanks so much for posting this!

  15. Anna @ Your Healthy Place on January 27, 2016 at 6:03 am

    Time is always of the essence in our lives so thank you for sharing – however, for me I haven’t been able to work out since September due to a course of health treatment I’ve been on. I went on a 30-minute run the other day for the first time since Sept (I used to run 30 minutes a few times a week) and am still SO SORE so I feel like I need to take it easy and ease back into working out. Perhaps I can try a less-intense version of these 20-minute workouts and build up to doing them full throttle before then expanding any further?

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